MeCCSA Campaigning against the Cuts
This document contains some of the basic facts and a few articles plus a
summary of the arguments for your use. The demonstration on the 10
November showed the extent of support and strength of feeling over the
proposed changes. We need to keep the momentum going and ensure the real
issues are heard loud and clear.
If you are interested in campaigning against the cuts then here are a few ideas
of what you can do:
1. Seek to be heard and influence any platform that you have access to, across
any network and in any public setting. Analysis and critique are what we are
good at – we need to use our skills to get the message out there. Between us
we can cover an awful lot of areas but you have to do it with purpose and
determination – the opportunities rarely come to you, you find them. Use
mainstream and alternative outlets – we need a flooding of responses.
2. Write to every single Lib-Dem MP NOW (see a sample letter below- p.13) –
we need 44 of the 55 lib-dem MPs to vote against the bill (that will be debated
in under 3 weeks – so time is of the essence). There names and addresses can
be found here:
3. Write to your local MP regardless of their party. This is an issue that may
make some backbenchers uneasy. Visit your local MP’s surgery and put your
views in person.
4. Make sure your students understand and appreciate what is happening. We
will need their support as the cuts start to bite. Organise meetings with your
students and keep them informed.
5. If you have a Facebook account join the UCU or NUS campaign group
6. If you use Twitter – flood it with relevant tags and links to good articles.
7. If you do have the resources to make a video-blog or podcast then make
them but ensure they get on high traffic sites.
9. Anything else you can think of – please share!
Key points as of 15 November
Complete cut in teaching subsidy to arts, humanities and social
sciences announced. STEM subjects and some modern languages to be
Cap on student fees to be set at £9,000 with no government levy to pay
(as originally mooted in the Browne Review) but stringent requirements
for widening participation and fair access for those who charge over
£6,000. It will be up to the university or college to decide what it charges,
including whether it charges at different levels for different courses.
According to UCU calculations, a three-year degree with annual tuition
fees of £6,000 would cost a total of £38,286, including maintenance
loans and interest payments.
Tuition charges will be determined by individual universities as from
A new £150m National Scholarships Programme will be targeted at
“bright potential students from poor backgrounds”. Students from
families with incomes of up to £25,000 will be entitled to a more
generous student maintenance grant of up to £3,250 and those from
families with incomes up to £42,000 will be entitled to a partial grant.
Maintenance loans will be available to all.
Graduates start paying back their tuition fees when they earn £21,000.
The repayment will be on 9% of income above £21,000, and all
outstanding repayments will be written off after 30 years. A real rate of
interest will be charged on loan repayments.
Analysis of data by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) shows
that the new system could place a bigger burden on future tax payers
due to large sums of unpaid debt being written off as graduates reach
the 30-year limit for repayment. HEPI warn that this may force the
government to keep a strict cap on student numbers.
The annual cost of studying for a degree has increased by 311.5% since
1988, according to research released by UCU. With tuition fees of
£9,000, students starting university in 2012 will face a bill for the first
year of their degree (tuition and maintenance loans) 101% higher than
their contemporaries who started this year.
A White Paper on HE Reform will be ready in the Winter and then a
broader higher education bill later on in this current, extended session
Summary of Browne Review:
Browne - Tuition Fees
– no limit on fees charged by universities
– Universities would be subject to a levy on all fees charged above £6,000 (40%
of the first £1,000, 45% of the second, 50% of the third etc)
– The levy begins at £6,000 to instil "a focus on efficiency" in the system
– Some funding for certain courses (STEM & "strategically important" language
– No minimum bursary requirement
Browne – Student Funding
– Students should not have to pay any tuition fees up front
– Repayments commence at £21,000. Until that point outstanding debt would
rise in line with inflation. After that point, interest charged at cost of Govt
– Changes to maintenance loans and maintenance grants
– Unpaid student debt written off after 30 years, rather than 25 years
– Part-time students eligible for loans for fees
Browne – HE & regulation
– Higher Education Funding Council for England, Quality Assurance Agency,
Office for Fair Access, and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator
abolished and replaced by a single Higher Education Council
– All new academics with teaching responsibilities should undertake a teaching
– The HE Council should have the power to bail out struggling institutions and
could explore options such as mergers and takeovers if institutions are facing
– More scrutiny re student access if HEI charges more than £7,000 pa
– New providers will be allowed to offer higher education teaching
– 10% increase allowed for overall university places over three years
– Govt will set a minimum entry standard, in terms of UCAS points, each year,
below these grades, students would not be eligible for financial support
A SAMPLE LETTER TO A LIBDEM MP
(written by Nick Couldry)
Dear Don Foster
I am writing to express my deep concern at the cuts proposed by the Coalition to
government's funding support of undergraduate teaching in universities.
My concern here is not specifically with the raising of student tuition fees although
there are broader worries that freeing up fees without the large-scale scholarship
system enabled, for example, by the long-term growth of endowments in the US
university system will worsen inequality of access to HEI teaching.
My main concern instead is with the Coalition's (specifically your fellow Liberal MP
the Secretary of State for Business,Innovation and Skills') decision to use Browne's
recommended freeing-up of student fees as the *pretext* for withdrawing, it seems,
all support for undergraduate teaching except in 'priority' areas (science, medical,
languages). The result will be a massive distortion, first, in the organization of the
HEI sector and, second, in prospective students' decision-making between courses.
Take as an example my own college Goldsmiths, part of University of London, and
with an excellent international reputation (but it is of course not unique in how the
new policy will impact upon it). Goldsmiths does not teach any of the 'priority' areas;
it follows the well-respected tradition known as 'liberal arts colleges' in the USA. It is
likely to lose all government support for its teaching, making it entirely vulnerable to
short-term shifts in student demand. No one objects to some exposure to the
pressures of student demand: but that is very different from receiving no
infrastructural support from government whatsoever to underpin long-term financial
Withdrawing government teaching support – with the inevitable consequence
that universities will have to raise fees very significantly in times of economic
uncertainty - is an extraordinary form of short-termism. It will install one criterion, and
one criterion only, as the factor guiding student choice of degree: what job with what
level of salary will this degree help me get?
The inevitable long-term result will be a narrowing of the range of courses on offer in
English universities and a shrinking of universities into largely vocational institutions,
except for those elite institutions whose existing status may by itself seem to
guarantee high-paid employment. The long-term consequences for entrenching
social inequality and inequality of opportunity still further through the education
system are clear.
As an MP you have a distinguished record of speaking up on matters of culture. You
also have a career that includes teaching in higher education. I cannot believe that
you are not disturbed by the implications of the coalition's proposed policy towards
the funding of HEI teaching.
I would urge you to work within your own party and the Coalition to reverse this ill-
advised policy which seems to have so little in common with the values with which
the Liberal Democratic party has long been associated.
TEMPLATE LETTER FOR OTHER MPs
I am writing as a constituent to express my deep concern at the cuts proposed by the
Coalition to the government's funding support of undergraduate teaching in
My main concern is with the Coalition's decision to use Browne's recommended
freeing-up of student fees as the ‘pretext’ for withdrawing all support for
undergraduate teaching except in 'priority' areas (science, medical, languages). The
result will be a massive distortion, first, in the organization of the HEI sector and,
second, in prospective students' decision-making between courses.
The narrow definition of courses that will attract continuing support is wrong-headed,
even in economic terms. I teach on arts, humanities and social science courses,
specifically in media, and can see how they contribute directly to the development of
the creative industries which are now one of our principal export successes: at £16.6
billion in 2007, they represented 45.5% of all exports. David Cameron has identified
them as an important growth area in rebalancing the economy.
Yet these courses are likely to lose all government support for their teaching, making
them entirely vulnerable to short-term shifts in student demand. It is one thing to be
open to some exposure to the pressures of student demand: but that is very different
from receiving no infrastructural support from government whatsoever to underpin
long-term financial planning. All university subjects are simply too important to the
long-term future of our nation to be left entirely to the whims of fashion.
Withdrawing government teaching support – with the inevitable consequence
that universities will have to raise fees very significantly in times of economic
uncertainty - is an extraordinary form of short-termism. It will install one criterion, and
one criterion only, as the factor guiding student choice of degree: what job with what
level of salary will this degree help me get?
The inevitable long-term result will be a narrowing of the range of courses on offer in
English universities. It will lead to a two-tier system with a small number of elite
institutions open to the rich, and a regional system of largely vocational institutions.
The long-term consequences for entrenching social inequality and inequality of
opportunity still further through the education system are clear.
Our university system is highly regarded around the world, and is itself a significant
generator of revenue for the UK because it can attract large numbers of overseas
students. I would urge you to work to reverse this ill-advised policy before irreparable
damage is done to it.
(London review of Books: Vol. 32 No. 21 · 4 November 2010)
Much of the initial response to the Browne Report seems to have missed the point. Its proposals have been
discussed almost entirely in terms of ‘a rise in fees’. Analysis has largely concentrated on the amount
graduates might pay and on which social groups may gain or lose by comparison with the present system.
In other words, the discussion has focused narrowly on the potential financial implications for the
individual student, and here it should be recognised that some of the details of Browne’s proposed system
of graduate contributions to the cost of fees are, if his premises are granted, an improvement on the present
But the report proposes a far, far more fundamental change to the way universities are financed than is
suggested by this concentration on income thresholds and repayment rates. Essentially, Browne is
contending that we should no longer think of higher education as the provision of a public good, articulated
through educational judgment and largely financed by public funds (in recent years supplemented by a
relatively small fee element). Instead, we should think of it as a lightly regulated market in which consumer
demand, in the form of student choice, is sovereign in determining what is offered by service providers (i.e.
universities). The single most radical recommendation in the report, by quite a long way, is the almost
complete withdrawal of the present annual block grant that government makes to universities to
underwrite their teaching, currently around £3.9 billion. This is more than simply a ‘cut’, even a draconian
one: it signals a redefinition of higher education and the retreat of the state from financial responsibility for
Instead, Browne wants to see universities attracting customers in a competitive marketplace: there will be a
certain amount of public subsidy of these consumers’ purchasing power, especially for those who do not go
on to a reasonably well-paid job, but the mechanism which would henceforth largely determine what and
how universities teach, and indeed in some cases whether they exist at all, will be consumer choice. There
are, naturally, some well-meant nods towards ‘quality assurance’ and ‘safeguarding the public interest’, and
the report has a few good ideas for mitigating some of the harshest financial effects of its scheme on
individual students from less advantaged backgrounds. But what is of greatest significance here is not the
detail of the financial arrangements but the character of the reasoning by which they are justified. Britain’s
universities, it is proposed, should henceforth operate in accordance with the tenets of perfect competition
Nobody should pretend that all is well with British universities in their present condition. For one thing,
expansion of numbers on the cheap has dramatically diluted the level of attention to individual students
that most universities can provide: nearly all parents with children at university hear disturbing reports of
overcrowded ‘seminars’ and minimal contact hours or attention to written work. In addition, there can be
no doubt that the Research Assessment Exercises have, on top of their other obvious failings, fostered a
culture within universities that rewards research disproportionately more than it does teaching. The
devoted university teachers of a generation or more ago who were widely read and kept up with recent
scholarship, but who were not themselves prolific publishers, have in many cases been hounded into early
retirement, to be replaced (if replaced at all) by younger colleagues who see research publications as the
route to promotion and esteem, and who try to limit their commitment to undergraduate teaching as far as
And then there are the problems that result from trying to pretend that we have a uniform ‘university
system’, when in fact there is a great diversity of types of institution and levels of quality. In the past two or
three decades there has been a huge educational enfranchisement of sections of the population that had
hitherto been shut out from the benefits of post-school education, and that has been a great democratic
good which present financial or other difficulties should not lead us to discount. But this does not mean
that all these people are, or should be, going straight from school to study traditional, intensively taught
undergraduate degrees in the liberal arts and sciences as full-time students at residential universities. There
is a wholly legitimate place in a diversified higher education system for all kinds of part-time, work-related,
vocationally oriented, career-break courses, but the social value of the institutions that primarily provide
such courses should be recognised and properly rewarded without forcing them to try to ape ‘traditional’
universities when the odds – in terms of resources, reputation and so on – are so stacked against them.
To understand the real significance of Browne’s proposals, we need briefly to recall the evolution of the
present system over the past half-century. In the 1960s and 1970s, the bulk of British universities’ income
came in the form of a block grant from government, administered to them on the ‘arm’s length’ principle by
a body, largely made up of senior academics, called the University Grants Committee. In the 1980s, this
system underwent substantial modification, with, for example, the ‘research’ element being distributed
differentially in accordance with the results of successive Research Assessment Exercises, while the element
covering teaching was paid on a roughly per capita basis, with higher multiples for expensive subjects such
as medicine. In the late 1980s, the UGC was replaced by what has become the Higher Education Funding
Council, whose membership includes business people and administrators and whose role has been to give
more direct effect to successive government policies by tying funding to the implementation of so-called
reforms. In the course of the 1980s and 1990s, Conservative governments deliberately reduced the level of
funding while increasing student numbers: in the years between 1989 and 1997 alone, as the Browne
Report itself acknowledges, ‘universities experienced a drop in funding per student of 36 per cent.’ The
decision in 1992 to allow all polytechnics to become universities almost doubled the number of universities
– and therefore of university students – overnight, all now to be funded under the single system. Between
1981 and 1997 considerable damage was done to universities, not least to the quality of their teaching, by
this deliberate combination of headlong expansion and progressive lowering of funding levels.
In the mid-1990s a committee was established, chaired by Lord Dearing, an experienced education policy-
fixer, to come up with ways of halting this downward spiral. Its 1997 report was taken to signal the end of
‘universal free higher education tuition’, since it recommended that graduates make a direct financial
contribution to the costs of their courses. Dearing suggested that this should be done through a system of
deferred repayments of an initial loan, calibrated according to income after university. But David Blunkett,
the relevant minister at the time, decided that it should be imposed as an upfront charge, initially of £1000
per year. He also, in an equally ill-considered move, reduced maintenance grants. Most students felt worse
off; most universities felt very little better off. It was clear from the outset that ‘Blunkett’s botch’ could only
be, at best, a temporary repair.
The Higher Education Act of 2004, the occasion of bitter political conflict and the narrowest of victories in
Parliament by the government, replaced this fudge with a system of variable fees whose level was to be set
by individual universities, up to a maximum of £3000, indexed to inflation. The act also scrapped upfront
payment, and instituted the present system of deferred repayment (not starting till the graduate’s income
exceeds £15,000), together with a confusing mixture of bursaries, grants and other loans. The stated aim of
allowing universities to set their own fees was to encourage institutions to ‘compete on price’. As it turned
out, only one institution charged below the maximum: it thereby missed out on quite a bit of money, and
soon all universities charged the same maximum fee. This has brought universities some welcome extra
income and allowed them to begin to address some of the problems caused by long-term underfunding, but
it is still the case that the costs of teaching are principally met from the block grant.
When considering Browne’s proposals, it is important to realise four things about the present system. First,
the existence of the block grant allows universities both a degree of flexibility about its use (for example, in
cross-subsidising less popular subjects) and a degree of stability in their forward planning (at least between
successive funding settlements). Second, it is still up to individual universities to make decisions about the
range of subjects they offer, the best forms of teaching them and so on; the government does not prescribe
these, and applicants simply choose from among those the universities provide. Third, the government has
a direct financial interest in regulating total student numbers since its expenditure is per capita, both in
terms of the block grant and the underwriting of the costs of the loan and bursary systems. And fourth, fees
are not determined by the actual cost of the student’s education, since these vary between courses and
between universities; the current fee is better understood as a kind of graduate poll tax, softened by a mildly
progressive deferred payment arrangement. What we have at present, therefore, represents an intricate
kind of compact between the state, the universities, the students and the taxpayer.
Browne proposes to scrap most of this. In its place, he wants to see a system in which the universities are
providers of services, students are the (rational) consumers of those services, and the state plays the role of
the regulator. His premise is that ‘students are best placed to make the judgment about what they want to
get from participating in higher education.’ His frequently repeated mantra is ‘student choice will drive up
quality,’ and the measure of quality is ‘student satisfaction’. At the moment, he laments, ‘students do not
have the opportunity to choose between institutions on the basis of price and value for money.’ Under his
scheme, such value will be primarily judged by students in terms of ‘the employment returns from their
courses’. Courses that lead to higher earnings will be able to charge higher fees. The same assumption
governs repayment rates: ‘Graduates will be required to make a greater contribution to the costs of higher
education varying widely according to how much benefit they have received from studying,’ where the
amount of benefit is indicated by the size of their subsequent salary. Overall, ‘increasing competition for
students will mean that institutions will have stronger incentives to focus on improving teaching quality. If
they are not able to attract enough students, their funding will decrease,’ and they will eventually be
eliminated. Perfect competition theory rules.
Naturally, the report presents all this as being for the greater good of universities: ‘We have made the case
that investment in higher education should increase; the decision on whether this case is convincing will
rest with students.’ This is culpably misleading. The report proposes a huge, almost unimaginable, de facto
cut in investment in higher education. It then says that it hopes to see this enormous shortfall made good
by the fees students will be willing to pay to those institutions that convince them they are worth it
(principally by enabling them to earn a higher salary). It is in reality a disguised voucher scheme. Students
will be able to borrow the cost of the fees, on somewhat subsidised terms, and they are then expected to go
and spend them on the ‘service provider’ of their choice. The report proposes that what universities teach
will henceforth be determined by their anticipation of consumer demand.
And even in its own wildly optimistic terms, this report proposes a hefty cut in funding. In suggesting that
the standard fee should initially be set at £6000 (which particular institutions might choose to exceed,
though there will be various disincentives, including a ‘levy’ which would claw some of it back), Browne
acknowledges that this would not fully replace the value of the block grant even for the most successful
institutions. But this is shrugged off with that kind of je m’en foutisme about real consequences that it is so
much easier to cultivate in the boardroom than on the shopfloor: ‘The purpose of starting the levy at a lower
point is to instil a focus on efficiency throughout the system.’ Lots of courses may have to be closed and lots
of people sacked, but that must mean, by definition, that they weren’t offering a product the consumer
wanted, so good riddance.
Much discussion has been focused on the fact that the stronger universities would be likely to charge fees
well above the standard level, and that this would introduce a ‘two-tier’ (or, in reality, a multi-tier) system.
But the fact is that we have a multi-tier system already, with both the better qualified applicants and the
bulk of research funding being attracted to the universities that (are thought to) have the best reputations.
The most likely effect of Browne’s proposals here would be to exacerbate the financial disparity between
types of university and, above all, to bring about a much closer correlation between the reputational
hierarchy of institutions and the social class of their student body. The report includes various ‘access’
regulations intended to mitigate the more extreme effects of this reallocation of students by family wealth,
but differential fees are, of course, absolutely central to its conception of the way the market mechanism
will operate, and it is a necessary truth about markets that they tend to replicate and even intensify the
existing distribution of economic power. ‘Free competition’ between rich and poor consumers means
Harrods for the former and Aldi for the latter: that’s what the punters have ‘chosen’.
The character, but perhaps also the confusions, of this model come more clearly into focus if we return to
the statement I quoted earlier which says: ‘Students are best placed to make the judgment about what they
want to get from participating in higher education.’ Looked at more closely, this statement reveals itself to
be a vacuous tautology because of its reliance on the phrase ‘want to get’. By definition, individuals are
privileged reporters on what they think they want. The sentence could only do the work the report requires
of it if it said something more like: ‘Students are best placed to make the judgment about what they should
get from participating in higher education.’ But this proposition is obviously false. Children may be best
placed to judge what they want to get from the sweetshop, but they are not best placed to judge what they
should get from their schooling. University students are, of course, no longer children, but nor are they
simply rational consumers in a perfect market.
It is fascinating, and very revealing, to see how Browne’s unreal confidence in the rationality of subjective
consumer choice is matched by his lack of belief in reasoned argument and judgment. The sentence that
immediately follows the vacuous one about students’ ‘wants’ reads: ‘We have looked carefully at the scope
to distribute funding by some objective metric of quality; but there is no robust way to do this and we doubt
whether the choices of a central funding body should be put before those of students.’ It is, first of all,
striking that the only alternative envisaged to the random play of subjective consumer choice is an
‘objective metric of quality’, i.e. some purely quantitative indicator. And second, it is no less striking that
instead of allowing that an informed judgment might be based on reasons, arguments and evidence, there
are simply the ‘choices’ made by two groups, treated as though they are just two equivalent expressions of
subjective preference. We can have the money for a national system of higher education distributed either
in accordance with the tastes of 18-year-olds or in accordance with the tastes of a group of older people in
London: there’s no other way to do it.
Similarly, Browne appears to believe that the only relevant measure of teaching quality is ‘student
satisfaction’. That is how the system will work: if they are satisfied, they’ll pay, and if not, not; and the
pressure they exert thereby will ‘drive up quality’. But this, other problems aside, comes perilously close to
reducing important human experiences to a set of ‘preferences’ as reported on a tick-box questionnaire. I
would hope the students I teach come away with certain kinds of dissatisfaction (including with themselves:
a ‘satisfied’ student is nigh-on ineducable), and it matters more that they carry on wondering about the
source of that dissatisfaction than whether they ‘liked’ the course or not. This is another respect in which
the ‘consumer’ model is simply misleading, an error encouraged by the prevalence in current edspeak of the
category of ‘the student experience’ (many universities now have a senior figure entitled Pro-Vice-
Chancellor, Student Experience). It may be that the most appropriate way to decide whether the
atmosphere in the student bar is right is by what students say when asked in a questionnaire whether they
‘like’ it or not. But this is obviously not the best way to decide whether a philosophy degree should have a
compulsory course on Kant. The philosophy department might hope that, some time after graduation, most
of its former students would come to see the wisdom of this requirement, but ‘student satisfaction’ is not
what is at issue here. That this recognition is retrospective tells us something important about education:
individuals often need to be told by someone who knows that a particular line of study is worth pursuing
whether at the time they want to or not.
The Browne Report, in keeping with the ethos of market populism, shies away from anything that might
seem to involve a judgment that one activity is more worthwhile than another: all you can go by are
consumer preferences, what people say they think they want. But at certain moments the report is forced to
fall back on other criteria which then reveal the hollowness of the central premise. For example, when the
report suggests that there would be some residual functions for a rejigged Higher Education Council, to do
with regulation and ‘access’, it also allows that there might be a ‘public interest’ in making sure there were
enough courses in, say, medicine, and then goes on: ‘The costs of these courses are high and, if students
were asked to meet all of the costs, there is a risk that they would choose to study cheaper courses instead.’
Or again, when proposing a limited amount of ‘targeted investment by the public in certain courses’
(essentially in science and technology), it concedes that this would be necessary since ‘students may not
choose these courses because the private returns are not as high as other courses, the costs are higher and
there are cheaper courses on offer, or simply because these courses are perceived as more difficult.’ Wait a
minute! Browne’s guiding assumption – the nag on which the nation’s higher education inheritance is to be
gambled – is that the system will be governed by student choice. If they can see that it is worth their while
to study, say, medicine, even if its costs are higher, they will choose to do so and courses in medicine will
therefore be provided; and if the students think these courses do not represent ‘value for money’, they will
shun them, in which case either the cost of such courses will fall or they will simply die out. But now
Browne is admitting market failure: applicants might make ‘irrational’ decisions. And what’s more, where
are these judgments about what is ‘needed’ coming from? We’ve just been told that the ‘choices’ of central
bodies should give way before the ‘choices’ of students, but now that only seems to be true in some cases.
It is, incidentally, one of the several dispiriting features of this report that even when it shows an
inconsistent twitch of non-market reflexes and recognises that there may be a public interest in making
sure that certain subjects are offered and studied, it in effect confines these subjects to science and
technology (with a token nod to the possible economic usefulness of some foreign languages). The only
social value the report seems able to think of is economic: these subjects contribute directly to the economy,
it is alleged, and so we must have them. The Comprehensive Spending Review has reinforced this emphasis
on science and technology by maintaining the science budget (which supports research, not teaching) at its
present level. Browne implies that other subjects, especially the arts and humanities, are just optional
extras. If students are willing to cash in their voucher to study them – perhaps because, for some
unexamined reason, they are thought to lead to higher-paid jobs – so be it; but if they’re not, then there’s no
public interest in having them. Despite the occasional (very occasional) mention of, say, ‘culture’, the logic
of the report’s proposals gives such values no independent standing. Overwhelmingly, the general
statements announce, with startling confidence, the real point of higher education: ‘Higher education
matters because it drives innovation and economic transformation. Higher education helps to produce
economic growth, which in turn contributes to national prosperity.’ And just when you might think there
was going to be a glimpse of something broader, your knuckles are smartly rapped: ‘Higher education
matters because it transforms the lives of individuals. On graduating, graduates are more likely to be
employed, more likely to enjoy higher wages and better job satisfaction, and more likely to find it easier to
move from one job to the next.’ This report displays no real interest in universities as places of education;
they are conceived of simply as engines of economic prosperity and as agencies for equipping future
employees to earn higher salaries.
But although this is what higher education is said to be for, Browne complains that it does not at present
fulfil its function very well; it does not ‘meet business needs’. For example: ‘The CBI found that 48 per cent
of employers were dissatisfied with the business awareness of the graduates they hired.’ Oh dear! Can it be
that some universities may not have a compulsory ‘business awareness day’ each week? Don’t worry,
Browne will fix that. Only courses that lead to high-paid jobs will survive, so universities will make sure
they provide the graduates that high-paying employers want. And anyway, many students will have
developed more business awareness through the experience of seeing how failing businesses are driven to
respond to falling market share.
The truth is, of course, that universities are not businesses and they do not operate in a market (which is
not to say that they do not need to be financially well run and to make good use of their, at present largely
public, resources). All comparisons and analogies are potentially misleading, but it would be less inaccurate
to say that, historically, British universities have been national cultural institutions that more closely
resembled, say, the British Museum or the BBC rather than, say, Bhs or BP. This does, of course, leave them
vulnerable to the winds of political fashion, not just in terms of fluctuations in funding but also in such
matters as the recent mania for constant assessment. As a result, some people see the idea of the better
regarded and better off British universities ‘going private’ as appealing, a form of liberation from the heavy
hand of the state, and some, overtly or secretly, hope that the adoption of Browne’s proposals will hasten
this outcome. But while it may be true that the present system embodies an unnecessary pretence that all
institutions called universities perform the same set of functions, it is no good deluding ourselves that
simply leaving 18-year-old applicants to cash in their vouchers at a university of their choice will lead to a
more intelligently conceived provision of diverse, high-quality institutions. It may just lead to a few private
jets and a lot of Ryanairs.
The scale of the report’s dismantling of the public character of higher education is breathtaking, and yet,
from another point of view, scarcely surprising. Though described as ‘an independent review’, it was never
likely to issue in a set of recommendations so out of tune with current government thinking that they would
simply be ignored. The coalition is at the moment using the whipped-up frenzy about the deficit in the
public finances as a cover for a recognisably ideological assault on all forms of public provision. There was
little chance that this report would make proposals that were not congruent with the form given to this
assault by the Comprehensive Spending Review. It has, as expected, proposed a huge reduction, amounting
to de facto abolition, of the block grant for teaching (full details are awaited). Some representatives of
British universities, appalled and terrified by the consequences of the massive cuts proposed in the
spending review, appear to be pinning their hopes on Browne as the only way of getting any money into
higher education. These are certainly desperate times, but perhaps the case for the proper public funding of
universities should not be surrendered quite so readily. What has to be recognised is that the Browne
Report is not some alternative, still less antidote, to the spending review: they go together as the two faces
of a calculated attempt to reshape higher education in this country by subjecting it to ‘the discipline of the
Browne presents his proposals as a package, with a single sustaining logic, and it is noticeable that in
interviews he has been insistent that no one should try to unpick the package. But Vince Cable, David
Willetts and their colleagues may be well advised to adopt his proposals on a strictly selective basis. Fees
will clearly rise, in which case features of the report’s scheme for repayment are preferable to the present
system: better-paid graduates would pay proportionately more, lower-paid graduates proportionately less.
For maintenance costs, its combination of a uniform loan and a more generous means-tested grant would
also benefit the students who need it most. The report is clearly right that part-time students must be
eligible for funding for their tuition on the same basis, pro rata, as full-time students; the lack of such
provision was a major flaw of the 2004 legislation. In these respects, several of the details of Browne’s
scheme are quite progressive.
But these are, precisely, details. It is difficult to estimate – though some reports suggest it may be difficult
to exaggerate – the damage that may be done to British universities in the short term by the abolition of the
block grant and the wild hope that its functions will be taken over by some kind of market mechanism run
by university applicants. At present, the block grant is the tangible expression of the public interest in the
provision of good quality education across the system, and the means for universities to make informed
intellectual choices about the subjects they teach. But before Liberal Democrat MPs sell their souls in the
division lobbies, they need to consider the longer-term consequences for British education and culture
more generally of implementing the kind of reasoning on which this report is based. What is at stake here is
not primarily the question of whether this or that group of graduates will pay a little more or a little less
towards the costs of their education, even though that may seem (particularly to those in marginal seats) to
be the most potent element electorally. What is at stake is whether universities in the future are to be
thought of as having a public cultural role partly sustained by public support, or whether we move further
towards redefining them in terms of a purely economistic calculation of value and a wholly individualist
conception of ‘consumer satisfaction’.
Useful news stories/press releases that provide some of the detail:
BBC Website, 26 October 2010
Humanities to lose English universities teaching grant
By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter
Students will be expected to pay higher fees
Teaching grants for degree courses in arts, humanities and social sciences at
England's universities are likely to be phased out under government plans.
Giving evidence to MPs, Universities Minister David Willetts suggested these
courses would be funded wholly via tuition fees in future.But he said the greater
share of cuts would come after fees went up in 2012.
Under the Browne Review, tuition fees replace teaching grants in all but science and
maths subjects. Lord Browne's review suggested the cap on fees should be lifted
and students should be charged unlimited fees. But this has been moderated in
recent days with ministers suggesting there would be some sort of a cap on fees.
Chancellor George Osbourne said the higher education budget was to be cut by
40% when he set out his spending review plans last week. This has been widely
misreported as a 40% cut to teaching budgets alone.
But Mr Willetts suggested cuts to teaching budgets overall would be larger than this
with some protection going to science, engineering, technology and maths subjects.
Giving evidence to the Commons business committee, Mr Willetts said Lord
Browne's proposals envisaged most of the teaching funding "going in a different way
- going via the student" by means of a graduate contribution.
Under this model, which he endorsed, he said "the teaching grant becomes a much
less significant source of resource for universities."
And he confirmed that, under Lord Browne's proposals, the teaching grant for band
C and D subjects - arts, social sciences and humanities - would be all but wiped out.
He added: "The teaching grant that you certainly need is the teaching grant for the
extra costs of the Band A and B subjects - laboratory based subjects we would need
a teaching grant to cover that extra."
Pressed about the level and speed of teaching grant budget cuts, Mr Willetts said the
details were still being worked out.
"On that model there is a big reduction in the teaching grant - the exact size of it will
depend on the detailed decisions we take," he said.
And he suggested there may be some extra protection for strategically sensitive
subjects such as modern languages. But he would not guarantee that there would
not be closures.
He said: "It's not possible to give a guarantee that all departments will carry on. We
are looking for savings that will start in 2012."
Mr Willetts said the final figures would be set out to universities in the usual way in
the grant letter to England's higher education funding body, Hefce, before Christmas.
General secretary of the University and College Union Sally Hunt said cuts of this
magnitude would lead to courses and whole universities closing. She said: "The
whole landscape of higher education in this country would change. What a university
is and what its purpose is would be completely different.
"We need stable funding and recognition from the government that investment in
education is an investment in our economic future."
A spokesman for Universities UK said it was concerned at the proposed withdrawal
of public funding for teaching, and in particular by the suggestion that arts and
humanities, and social sciences subjects are not considered to be priority areas for
He added that graduates in these subjects made a substantial contribution to the
economy and assuring provision in these areas was strongly in the national interest.
"The arts and humanities are crucial in supporting the UK's world-leading creative
"The creative industries account for £16.6bn in exports and contribute almost £60bn
to the economy.
"Even in these difficult economic times, this sector is set to grow at more than double
the rate of the rest of the economy and at a much faster rate than our international
David Willetts (21 October) at the HEFCE Annual Conference
(italics – my emphasis):
“We aim to publish a White Paper in the Winter and then – Parliamentary time
permitting – hope to introduce a broader higher education bill perhaps later on in this
current, extended session
The central proposition in Browne is this – that the bulk of the teaching grant which is
currently distributed to universities via HEFCE should be replaced by spending
power placed directly in the hands of students, who will be lent money to pay for their
university education. Students will not, of course, have to find any money of their
own for tuition during their time at university, but they will make contributions
subsequently as graduates. That is the big shift in the funding of higher education
put forward by the Browne report and endorsed by the Coalition. Vince and I both
believe it is the right way forward. It both delivers a big saving in public spending –
reflected in yesterday's spending review – and reforms the financing system so that it
is shaped by the preferences of students. This new model is what lies behind the
Chancellor's statement yesterday.
We have said in the spending review that the overall resource budget for HE,
excluding research funding, will reduce from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion – a 40 per
cent, or £2.9 billion, reduction – by 2014-15. By far the greatest part of that reduction
flows from our acceptance of the approach presented by Lord Browne – that, starting
from the 2012/13 academic year, we will start to reduce HEFCE teaching funding,
and institutions will be able to replace it, if they can attract students to their courses,
with funding flowing via the graduate contribution scheme. Obviously, the details of
this will vary between different institutions, and will be affected by the decisions we
quickly need to make about the fee regime.
The spending review also contained several assumptions about efficiency, both
within the public sector, and for bodies to which the public sector contributes
significant funding. My own department is facing a 40 per cent headline cut in its
administration costs. It is not for us to say precisely what efficiency savings a
university should make, but crucial areas to look at will be pay and pensions,
procurement and shared services. I know most of you already have plans in train
I know that you will have many detailed questions about higher education funding for
2011-12 and beyond, which, you will understand, we are not yet in a position to
answer. As usual, we will send a grant letter to HEFCE, with more details, around
the turn of the year.
I know too that people in this room will have anxieties about the shift in spending, but
I have to ask what the alternative is. Given the fiscal crisis and the pressure that we
are under, there is no option of carrying on as we are. We would have had to do
something – even the previous Labour Government had set out £600 million of cuts
over a shorter time scale, albeit with no indication of how they were to be delivered.
One possibility would have been a big reduction in the unit of resource per student,
threatening the quality of the student experience. Alternatively there could have been
a big reduction in student numbers, depriving thousands of young people of a crucial
step on the ladder of opportunity. A third option was a pure graduate tax, which
would risk a brain drain with its incentives for people to study or work abroad. The
graduate tax also breaks the link between student and university. There is an
excellent guide to these problems and more: a report from December 2003 called
"Why not a pure graduate tax?", published by the last Labour Government.
These options, therefore, all have enormous disadvantages. Lord Browne's
considered approach, which we endorse, actually shows a pathway towards a
positive and viable future for higher education – a way through the "valley of death"
to which Steve Smith has often referred.
The HE system that we develop between us must be as fair and as progressive as
possible. In the current economic climate, therefore, we simply cannot afford a fiscal
subsidy to the wealthiest families. Looking at the Browne proposals, the Institute for
Fiscal Studies found that the poorest 30 per cent of graduates would be better off
than now, while only the richest 30 per cent of graduates would have to pay off their
loans in full.
The figures we end up with may not be quite those. But broadly, that is the right
approach. In fact, we in the Coalition have set ourselves the task of improving on
Browne and coming up with proposals that offer even more help for students from
the poorest backgrounds but without unfair penalties on success. I have to say to the
strongest universities that they have not been successful enough in improving
access to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Back in April, Sir Martin Harris duly noted that, collectively, universities have made
clear progress on widening participation. But he concluded that the participation rate
among the least advantaged 40 per cent of young people at the top third of most
selective universities "has remained almost flat" since the mid-1990s. The
Government is committed to good universities, but it is equally serious about social
mobility. The two must go hand in hand. And I hope you will recognise the strength
of feeling within the Coalition that one of the non-negotiables in all this is that
universities must deliver on broadening access. The challenge is to achieve this with
imaginative and equitable policy – not with clunky quotas or crude social
engineering. I believe we can do it.
We can do it by focussing on three key groups: young people at school and college,
students with modest incomes at university, and graduates with low earnings. We
will offer them a fairer deal which applies at all three stages: routes for people to get
into university, from school, college and through other avenues; increased support
for students from poorer backgrounds while they're at university; and better support
for people on low incomes once they have graduated.
In his important speech last Friday, Nick Clegg pledged £150 million of government
money for a national scholarship scheme to improve access for students from
families of modest means. It will be fair, affordable, and make a real difference to
some of the poorest students. At the same time, it will not add to the burden of
regulation on institutions or duplicate arrangements under the more generous and
coherent student support system that's being developed as Browne recommended. I
will be inviting the National Union of Students, Universities UK, the Office for Fair
Access, the Sutton Trust and other interested parties to help us design a scheme for
both young and mature students.
The second stage involves a more generous maintenance package for students from
poorer backgrounds, details of which we hope to announce shortly. We are looking
closely at the Browne recommendations for a more generous maintenance grant,
supplemented by a more generous loans package. It would be a great achievement
to increase maintenance levels on a progressive basis, with more generous grant
than now, even in these austere times. If the Coalition Government can deliver this
as proposed by Browne, then the obligation on universities to deliver their side of the
bargain on access will be even greater.
Improving the deal for part-timers is a key part of broadening access. For the first
time, part-time students will – as Browne proposes – be eligible for loans to cover the
full cost of their tuition, on the same basis as full timers. I see this as a genuine
milestone – something that neither Robbins nor Dearing tackled. It is a vital part of
creating a more responsive and diverse HE sector.
The third stage is fairness for graduates. We will reform graduate contributions, by
increasing the threshold at which people begin to repay loans, and by introducing a
positive interest rate. It is crucial for the Coalition that contributions should be related
to ability to pay without making the mistake of the pure graduate tax and losing the
link with the actual cost of a university education. We specifically asked Lord Browne
to address the issue of progressivity and he has come up with ingenious and
practical proposals which we intend to work with. We can see the case for setting the
income threshold for repayments at £21,000, as Browne suggests – way above the
present £15,000 – with nine per cent of salary payable above that threshold.
As for terms on early repayment, the arguments have become rather muddled
thanks to a misleading report in the Guardian and some rather sloppy work by the
Social Market Foundation which does not appear to understand that money in the
future is worth less than money now. We are examining this issue carefully. There is
a feeling that it would be unfair if the better-off could reduce their payments by
paying early. But for many people with modest earnings, the delay in repayments at
a less than commercial interest rate is an advantage, not a disadvantage.
This, then, is the direction in which the Coalition Government is heading. Even while
public spending is being reduced, we are seeking more progressive outcomes than
at present. As the Institute of Fiscal Studies commented, “The proposed reforms to
student support and graduate repayments would be a welcome development if they
were to be adopted. By continuing to provide up-front cash support for the full
amount of fees and for living costs, the system should preserve access to higher
education regardless of family background."
There are, of course, some very difficult issues around fee caps and the levy. For
Lord Browne, there is – in theory – no upper limit to fees. He would argue that,
provided admissions are needs blind and provided that the Exchequer doesn’t take
on any of the risk of high loans, the problem is resolved. But we understand the very
strong concern about the level of graduate contributions.
Lord Browne’s proposed levy to avoid any Exchequer subsidy for loans has also
aroused quite a lot of concern across the sector. It means that as soon as
universities raise their fee above the threshold level, they face a rapidly rising levy
which can drive their fees up even higher in order to reach a given level of income.
Another objection, for example, is that a levy could become an obstacle to
philanthropy if the upfront payment of fees via donors were to attract it. If you didn’t
have a levy, however, there would be a need for some sort of upper cap. We
recognise there are arguments for a lower rate for the levy, or for not having a levy at
all and sticking with a fee cap instead.
We have not reached a final decision on the levy and the fee cap, but there is an
interesting feature within the current arrangements for higher education funding,
which consist of a basic cap of £1,310 and a higher rate cap of £3,290. It would be
possible to set new levels for each, with stringent conditions on access which any
institution would have to meet before setting a graduate contribution at the higher
The key legal condition, of course, is access and progression – enforceable by
OFFA. There is still a dangerous temptation for universities to blame failings in the
widening participation and fair access agendas on schools – instead of dealing with
the world as it is. We can’t just sit on our hands and wait for schools to be reformed –
although that must happen. Universities must act now, and we would look carefully
at the conditions that OFFA demands.
There is also an important question around teaching quality. This is where I think the
sector is most in danger of losing contact with its supporters. On the one hand, we
should naturally expect high standards of teaching in all publicly-funded institutions.
On the other, universities who wish to charge more for undergraduate courses need
to produce compelling evidence as to what the extra money would buy in terms of
better teaching, contact time and services for students. And it is legitimate for
students to ask why the finance reforms introduced under the previous government
failed – in some cases – to deliver improvements to their educational experience.
In a reformed system, students will expect a better experience in return for higher
contributions as graduates. If we are to win the argument for reform, universities
must demonstrably respond to the perception that some students are being short-
changed. We must do better and we will. This is one of the reasons why I attach so
much importance to supply side reform. Competition is a great driver of
improvement. We want to see innovation and a diverse range of choices for students
– two-year courses, for instance, and more vocational degrees. In speeches we have
made in recent months, both Vince Cable and I have challenged the traditional
model of three-year degree courses for 18-year-olds away at college, and especially
championed part-time learning. It is for you rather than us to carry through reform,
but now is the time to identify anything in the arrangements for public financing or
regulations which would stifle these options.
I am also aware of substantial concerns within the sector about Lord Browne's
proposal on controlling student numbers via UCAS tariff points. This is an especially
thorny problem: maintaining macro control over student numbers while leaving micro
freedom to individual institutions. John Browne's is an imaginative solution, but has
raised questions about practicalities. And it is important that we do not deter mature
students, for example, who may have not achieved academic success at school –
which is why he suggests a second admissions route separate from UCAS points.
But running two separate systems creates a new set of problems. Meanwhile UCAS
is doing important work looking at how their points system could be reformed. There
is a lot more work to do in this whole area before any changes are implemented.
Some people have also raised doubts about the idea of a single council which
incorporates HEFCE, OFFA, the QAA and the OIA. The Coalition is instinctively
attracted to any proposals which reduce the number of such bodies, but we need to
tread carefully. The OIA's special role as an alternative way of resolving disputes
without going through the courts does require independence. The QAA, of course, is
not a Government quango – it is jointly owned and sponsored by the HE sector with
HEFCE, and any changes need to be discussed with the sector. Clearly, we need to
think through all this carefully. We won't rush into any decisions. But Lord Browne, as
so often, does have a powerful logic behind his central argument. HEFCE has, in
effect, operated as the regulator of the sector through its power to make grants. As
the relative size of these grants falls, so the regulatory role comes out into the open
more. This must be must be used with care and discretion. But clearly, a key role is
going to be in broadening access. What we're also seeking to do, of course, is
reduce regulation and external intrusion into higher education, in favour of greater
freedom and autonomy.
My own current thinking is that merging HEFCE and OFFA would be sensible once
funding to universities is channelled through students rather than through HEFCE. I
assure you, though, that the institutional landscape will not change before the
academic year 2012/13; it would require legislation, and therefore Parliamentary
approval. In the meantime, I can announce that I have reappointed Sir Martin Harris
as Director of the Office for Fair Access for a further 12 months. His experience will
be invaluable as we work more on improving access.
I can also announce the appointment of Ed Smith – a HEFCE board member – as
the new Chair of the Student Loans Company. The processing of student loan
applications has gone well this year. Figures published today show that 94 per cent
of approved applicants had their full entitlement available to them when they arrived
on campus. We owe Deian Hopkin, Ed Lester and their team a substantial vote of
thanks. This is a transformation, compared with last year’s appalling performance.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank the National Student Forum – and its
chair, Maeve Sherlock – for its contribution to improving the student experience over
the past three years. The Forum has published its final report today, which again
provides some excellent material for universities to consider together with their
student bodies. It is this active partnership, often at a detailed course level, which
can vastly improve the knowledge and skills of undergraduates, as well as helping
institutions to fulfil their missions. We will continue to listen to students and make
sure that we understand their varied concerns and priorities.
The other main news from the Chancellor yesterday concerned funding for science
and research. It is good news for HEFCE's QR funding and Higher Education
Innovation Fund, and good news for the Research Councils and National
It is proof that this Government recognises the fundamental role of science and
research in rebalancing the economy and restoring economic growth. Despite
enormous pressure on public spending, the overall level of funding for science and
research programmes has been protected in cash terms. And as we implement the
efficiency savings identified by Bill Wakeham, we should be able to offset the effects
of inflation – thus maintaining research funding in real terms.
There has also been a great deal of pressure to maintain flexibility in government
spending. A stable investment climate for science and research – as we all know –
allows universities and research institutes to plan strategically, and gives
businesses, public services and charities the confidence to invest in the research
base. I am delighted to confirm, therefore, that the ring-fence for science and
research programmes has therefore been maintained.
Across the country, we have excellent departments with the critical mass to compete
globally and the expertise to work closely with business, charities and public
services. This £4.6 billion settlement for science and research should mean that we
can continue to support them.
We must, though, continue to develop an assessment framework that combines
recognition of the highest levels of research excellence with reward for the impact it
has on the economy and society. HEFCE is making good progress with the
Research Excellence Framework, in partnership with many academics from across
the spectrum of disciplines. I too have had lively discussions with academics on this,
and look forward to seeing the results of the pilot exercise later this year.
We are also continuing to support capital investment where it is a high priority. We
have allocated £69 million over the spending review period, in partnership with the
Wellcome Trust, to the next phase of the Diamond synchrotron in Oxfordshire to
support ground-breaking research in the life, physical and environmental sciences.
And the Department of Health is joining my department, University College London
and medical charities to fund the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation.
The Department of Health will put £220m into this important venture that will
accelerate the translation of basic research into care for patients.
The Government is committed to getting business and universities working more
closely together. I am therefore working with HEFCE to reform Higher Education
Innovation Funding (HEIF) to increase the rewards for universities that are most
effective in business engagement. Some exciting ideas have emerged from the
community about how to improve the effectiveness of university IP management. We
will explore with HEFCE the opportunities to release this potential.
To conclude, let me make three final points.
The first is to repeat that we are determined to manage the process of transition
carefully – avoiding disruption unless it is a necessary aspect of reform. That is why
the spending review savings will be focused towards the second half of the spending
period. Indeed, I believe that higher education, as well as research, should be able to
maintain overall levels of activity throughout this time of austerity.
The more important point, though, is that, despite the risks associated with any
change, the reforms we undertake will improve higher education in the long run.
Those institutions which attract more students and pull in businesses seeking to
boost the skills of their employees will be able to grow. They will reap the rewards of
good teaching that students and employers recognise and value. They will be able to
innovate, to make the most of greater autonomy, to pursue their institutional
missions, including research.
And thirdly, although this speech has inevitably had to focus on finance and
organisation, Vince and I never lose sight of the sheer inherent value of the
intellectual activity that happens within our universities. Any structure and any
government department is just there to serve this greater good. Our changes have to
fit with and reinforce the core values of higher education, that motivate those who
devote their lives to it.”
Some articles in response to the cuts
On the national demonstration:
Same riot/demo, different views (blog)
This was the demo... ...or was this?
By Shakuntala Banaji, LSE
In riposte to various UK newspapers’ and news channels’ conservative versions of reality, I
would like to give an alternative account of what happened on the November 10th NUS and
UCU demonstration against student fees and on the break-away part of it at 30 Millbank, the
Conservative party HQ.
The march was vibrant, inventive, angry (lots of banners and costumes as you would expect,
music, dancers, and theatre groups, plackards such as ‘Medics Against the Cuts’ and ‘You
Kant cut Kant, You just Kant!’). Anyone watching the demonstration would have seen no
signs of the youth apathy and lack of interest in politics which is so often lamented in policy
and press. However the demonstration route was also fairly short – passing through few
populated areas – and the crowds were quickly dispersed.
Yes, there were over fifty thousand people there and that is something to celebrate if only
because most of the marchers were young and some of them protesting for the first time; but
experiences in February 2003 suggest that popular protests against unpopular policies in the
UK may be allowed and then fairly swiftly discounted.
No-body hijacked the march. Some people – students for the most part, but also lecturers, and
some parents – evidently decided that they did not want to protest in the dutiful, regimented
manner which some union officials would prefer. The students who decided to stay at 30
Millbank – several thousand for over four hours – as well as a large number of lecturers were
quite understandably frustrated. They were there to protest about the proposed unjust cuts to
the arts, social sciences and humanities, the incredible hikes in fees; and they were worried
that the right to higher education will no longer be a right for a large segment of the British
Some, especially those who voted Liberal-Democrat, were seething at the manner in which
pre-election promises are being broken. However, they were also good humoured, inventive
and articulate; large windows at Conservative Head Quarters were broken so that people
could get inside, and yes, there were placard sticks and plastic bottles being thrown which
hurt a few demonstrators and a couple of police; there was a fearful moment when someone
dropped a fire-extinguisher off the building.
But it was absolutely not the extended, vicious riot that is being talked of by so many news
outlets. Ironically, in the crowd there were dozens of media and communications students
from various parts of the country busily twittering, blogging and filming as part of their
Not A Mob
Precisely because of the low-key policing strategy at the beginning and because the protestors
were not a mob, harm to people was minimal for the most part. Whether or not you approve
of the violence against the Conservative Head Quarters and the chucking of placards at the
police, it was never out of control. The atmosphere became much more intimidating towards
nightfall when additional riot police arrived; at that point, those students who stayed to have
their names and addresses taken, or to be cuffed and searched, are far braver than those of us
who chose to leave.
We adjure our youth to become engaged, to take a stand, to participate in civic action. And
when they do it in their various different ways, we should not turn our back on some of them
and say they did not participate quite as we might have done. It takes creativity, and courage
to stand up against long-term harm which is irrational and difficult to represent in a vitriolic
glass-breaking snapshot: this violence is involved in taking to pieces the UK’s higher
education and welfare provision.
Although we will hear much more opprobrium heaped on the Millbank protestors in coming
weeks, it is towards the tiny but powerful minority of ideological vandals who now rule our
country that we should really be posing our questions: why have you hijacked our
democracy? How dare you take something given to you in trusteeship and act as if it was
yours to decimate?
By Shakuntala Banaji, lecturer LSE, writing in a personal capacity
Student fees protests: the real vandals
Priyamvada Gopal, The Guardian, Saturday 13 November 2010
The decimation of our public services will cause far more bloody mayhem than the student
This week, tens of thousands of students and teachers demonstrated their commitment to the
vanishing idea that the interests of the ordinary majority should prevail over the will of the
powerful few. Most adhered to the prescribed rituals of peaceful and legitimate protest. But,
as we should expect in times of great injustice, some departed from the script. They lit
bonfires, smashed windows, occupied the roof of an unlovely building and ill-advisedly
hurled the odd inanimate object.
As the same few pictures of broken windows and bonfires were flashed across television
screens, out scuttled the politicians to deplore "bloody" mob violence and those who "ruined
it for everyone else". Union officials vied with them to see who could use the strongest
language ("despicable", "disgraceful", "contemptible"). In most of the media the protesters
became "thugs", "rioters" and "criminals".
Meanwhile, a coalition government with no mandate for what they are doing demonstrated
that their declared commitment to legitimate protest is no more than symbolic, with
politicians such as Nick Gibb, the education minister, insisting that a largely peaceful protest
by tens of thousands of students will not change the government's planned course of action in
Focusing on damage to buildings usefully distracts attention from the much more far-
reaching and systematic violence now being visited upon our education system and society
more widely. It is as if we are being asked to believe that reparable damage to windows
matters more than the lasting decimation of the nation's public property – schools,
universities, public transport and hospitals; or that young people in search of social justice
will undermine the fabric of Britain more viciously than those who would systematically
degrade this country's welfare system, employment prospects, wages and pensions.
The wilful infliction of injury on human beings is violent and must not be condoned. Hurling
a fire extinguisher into a crowd is clearly wrong, but the broken glass and bonfires of
Wednesday were more visually spectacular than actually harmful. It is the coalition's policies
that are going to generate bloody mayhem. Cancer patients endure violence as they wait
longer for fewer tests. Those sleeping rough in the winter cold suffer violence. As for real
destruction and vandalism, let us begin with our libraries, recreation services, public transport
and school buildings. As some lecturers at Goldsmiths college in London have pointed out,
the "real violence in this situation relates to the destructive impact of the cuts".
Those who inflict such violence through laws, budgets and the hypocritical language of
shared pain feel entitled to demand non-violence. As the basis of protest, non-violence has
been perverted from its once effective use as a weapon of the people – with actions such as
sit-ins, boycotts, bonfires of goods and picketing – into a subterfuge for rulers, a pious excuse
to protect them from the consequences of their actions. When that fails, out come the arrests
and intimidation, as with the police hunt for those who occupied the Millbank building. We
must not tolerate this demonisation of those who attempted to symbolically reclaim their
As resistance to the destruction of our social and economic landscape gathers momentum, we
need effective strategies of protest. Civil disobedience – a principled breaking of the law –
can be a powerful tool. Genteel rallies do not put sufficient pressure on the political class.
Tarnishing justifiably angry young people as thugs will not make the real problem – the
violence of the entitled few against the disenfranchised many – magically disappear.
THE DEATH OF THE UNIVERSITY, ENGLISH STYLE
NICK COULDRY AND ANGELA MCROBBIE
Something important died on 12 October 2010: the idea of the university in England.
Perhaps 'received its death warrant' would be more accurate than 'died'. For there are still
some weeks left in which to challenge the fate that the Browne Report proposed for our
university system. But that requires looking closely at the mechanisms Browne proposes.
The Browne Report says it's about funding 'a sustainable funding solution for the future' of
high education. It calls for more investment and offers a new mechanism for generating
investment, by putting 'choice . . . in the hands of the students'.
Who could object to more, and better, choice for students? We certainly don't. That is why it
is important to understand that the new funding mechanism Browne proposes is only very
partially about choice.
Browne proposes, and the Government accepts, that government financial support for
universities' teaching infrastructure will be removed, and replaced by the income from
student fees, received in the form of a government payment that graduates will repay back
later through the tax system, if their earnings are high enough. Let's leave aside 'so-called
'priority' courses for the moment, and ask what are the likely effects of this revolution in
English universities' general funding model? Government will save a lot of money, and many
will celebrate this, but the long-term costs of those savings will be both subtle and deep.
First, universities' financial planning will be thrown into uncertainty, affecting their forward
decisions on the degrees they provide. It will become increasingly difficult to ensure
continuity of quality and the maintenance of standards when income cannot be predicted.
Second, students may begin to choose degrees on the basis of the earnings capacity a degree
will give them. Only two types of student will be relaxed about their choice: those with high
parental resources behind them, and those choosing degrees (maybe a leading finance or
business degree?) who may believe that such a degree will guarantee them large salaries in
the City, though this is now less guaranteed than before.
Third, over the longer-term, the range of degrees most universities offer will be narrowed. If
university finance is largely (for some institutions exclusively) driven by student fee income,
and student decisions narrowly driven by calculations of future earnings, how easy will it be
in 10 years time to propose a new degree in philosophy, art history, or a language not on the
government's list of 'strategically important' languages? Will the result really be more choice?
Two types of course will be protected from these new pressures: courses which government
deems a national priority (medical, certain other science, technology and health care courses,
some languages); and non-priority courses in richer universities that those universities decide
to cross-subsidise. But universities and colleges that don't teach 'priority' courses will have
little chance of generating the reserve income for such subsidies – even if they survive the
new funding regime. Browne recognises that a consequence of his reforms is some
universities will come under pressure to close.
Unless resisted, Browne's proposals are likely, over time, to narrow the range of degree
courses offered to students, so they become increasingly dominated by courses that are work-
skills-oriented or carry high social prestige. Elite universities may be able to withstand these
pressures, but only because they can charge the highest fees: we don't believe the resulting
implications of this for inequality of access to higher education can be mitigated in a country
that lacks the USA's century-old system of university endowments.
Our conclusion as two academics proud to teach in non-priority areas (the arts, humanities
and social sciences) is that some major principles of the English education system are now
under threat. There is the basic principle that governments support universities to provide a
wide range of courses giving access at the highest level to the full range of human
knowledge, understanding and creativity. Also under threat is the principle that, through this
broad idea of the university, young people have the opportunity to develop their full
intellectual and creative potential, regardless of family wealth. Browne appears to believe that
a system for distributing resources based on individual market choice will somehow generate
the university system that society needs (and you thought neoliberalism was dead!).
Yet there has been too little debate so far on this deeper threat to the university system
represented by the Coalition's response to the Browne report. One explanation for that lack of
debate is old-fashioned divide-and-rule. As Browne says, he has introduced a 'more dynamic
system of funding', which means that in the short term it may not be in, for example, Russell
Group universities' interests to challenge what is proposed.
It is all universities however,– and the inclusive idea of the university for which England has
until now been internationally admired – that, in the long run, will be diminished by the
reforms now under way. Last Wednesday's march was just the first stage in opening up the
wider debate that is needed.
NICK COULDRY is Professor of Media and Communications and ANGELA MCROBBIE
Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London
It adds up to a dodgy deal
Times Higher Education, 11 November 2010
Malcolm Gillies questions the maths behind the new student loan policy
Our students are worried about what is "debt", what is "loan" and what is "free". These four-
letter words are very deliberately being used to describe the proposed repayment obligations
for our future students. I was listening closely to Lord Browne's words at a recent event at
BPP University College in the City. The proposed higher education funding system "is free at
the point of access"; "it is not debt; it is a contingent loan". But then, "it is through the debt
write-offs that the state supports the student".
The key proposition of Browne is to relieve the public purse by withdrawing most state
contribution to higher education teaching. Instead, there will be a more elaborate, state-
backed loan facility for students. The student defers loan repayments until a suitable income
level is secured, but then makes repayments that will include inflation and real interest
charges. The government contribution for most students comes only when any residual debt
needs to be written off.
Let's look at this another way. The first debtors' accounts of this new system will be wiped in
the year 2045 - or whenever someone in the next three decades decides to change the
conditions. So, my question about this loan, which as a taxpayer I am being asked to
underwrite, is: how much of it will be prime and how much sub-prime? That is, how much
will be given to people who do not have good prospects, even across three decades, of paying
my loan to them back?
We should be asking: what is the solidity of this loans package currently being sold to the
taxpayer, as funder/backer, and to the student, as borrower/repayer?
I remember well the advocacy for income-contingent loans to Australian higher education
students some two decades ago, when the claimed "default" rate on final repayment was more
than 20 per cent over a much shorter total time period. At the time, that seemed highly
The figure for such default in Lord Browne's report is 60 per cent. That's right, the majority
of all borrowers would, even after 30 years, not have repaid their full account. But he is not
worried about this, saying: "For all students, studying for a degree will be a risk-free
The risk is taken by someone else: presumably, the taxpayer.
The figure given by Lord Browne at his BPP talk was higher - 70 per cent of all those taking
out loans would post-2045 gain some form of debt write-off. This evidently equates to being
"progressive". He estimated that write-off as, on average, £1,500-£2,000 per student.
Watch out, however, because the figures are already on the move. Lord Browne's 60 per cent
figure was based on the government's rate of borrowing (inflation plus 2.2 per cent). But
David Willetts, the minister of state for universities and science, said in the House of
Commons on 3 November that the government proposal was now to notch this up to a real
(ie, commercial, 3 per cent above inflation) interest rate, at least for those ex-students with
We can only surmise that Willetts' default rate will be more than Lord Browne's 70 per cent.
But now, on the BBC, I hear that "half" of the debts will be repaid in full.
Whatever this figure is - 50 per cent or 80 per cent, or somewhere in between - it is crucial to
understand how solid and enduring these calculations are, and to address the question of
whose interests are served by these far-distant write-offs. Why? Because for all non-STEM
students this is the only form of government subsidy of their fees that they will ever see. And
why? Because this is the very basis on which the brave new world of higher education
funding is being built.
As Lord Browne said: "It is through the debt write-offs that the state supports the student."
Is this efficient public policy? At these default rates, and kicked this far into the future, the
answer has to be "No". Its economics are opaque. Its proponents don't seem sure of its vital
statistics. And the escalating total debt and tax matrix of future graduate citizens is politely
There is, of course, a vital role for government subsidy of higher education. We all recognise
a public and a private benefit from higher education. Income-contingent loans were used
early to make the repayment of the private component more equitable.
But the application of it to the full degree cost for a majority of students, then resulting in
majority failure to repay even across three decades, goes too far. It simply becomes
unacceptably inefficient. It is just poor policy, with a minimal chance of orderly, consistent
application across the decades.
Despite high national debt, most nations recognise the need for substantial upfront
government subsidy, to the student and to the institution. It has proven to be one of the best
public investments. Loan repayments of the private component need to be affordable for the
majority, with a clock running for a reasonable period of time. And its interest rates want to
be those for government lending, not the enhanced rates of the banks.
Cuts and their Consequences
3-D MeCCSA Newsletter September 2010 (before the Browne Review but the
arguments remain the same –particular passages of use have been
Natalie Fenton, Goldsmiths, University of London and MeCCSA Executive.
I usually start a new academic year with a spring in my stride and renewed
enthusiasm to bestow the excitement of the challenges of critical thinking upon
students and keep the research alive and kicking. But this year feels different. This
year we are faced with the prospect of 25% funding cuts across government
departments over a four year period from April 2011 the precise details of which we’ll
find out in George-the-grim-reaper’s Spending Review on October 20. Because
certain areas of public expenditure are ring fenced and HE has always been on the
fence rather than within it that 25% will probably increase with some estimates
putting cuts to HE at a shocking 35%. In June HEFCE announced an immediate cut
in grants of £20.8 million plus a further cut of £82 million from 2010-11 grants (£52
million from teaching grants and £30 million from capital funding). And in his grant
letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Business
Secretary Vince Cable said the sector will also be expected to help BIS find
additional savings of £100 million in 2010/11.
UCU estimates that 22,584 university jobs will be lost if funding is cut by 25%. This
will also mean that students will face some of largest class sizes in the developed
world ( http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=4736), less teaching contact time,
less pastoral care with the inevitable fall in the quality of teaching and learning. Staff
that survive the cull will likely face massively increased workloads with research time
increasingly becoming an unaffordable luxury for all but the fortunate few.
What does this mean for MeCCSA members and the subject areas we cover?
Undoubtedly the Arts and Humanities will suffer the most with STEM subjects given
the most cushioning. Our discipline areas may still be popular but there’s a glut of
students wanting to go to university and not enough places so straightforward
popularity will not necessarily save the day. Those institutions in the Russell Group
who are least reliant on public funding and can charge higher and higher
postgraduate fees (in business and management schools for example) and increase
international recruitment will likely survive the best. The smaller institutions without
these buffer zones or international outreach potential will feel the pain the most. In
other words, the elite institutions with well established international brands will draw
in the privileged few who are able to pay super-high fees and thereby weather the
storm. Others will struggle and some will likely fall by the wayside.
Universities are only just beginning to come to terms with the consequences of the
funding cuts. Many departments are being asked to cut budgets or increase income
or do both at once. There are some who are cutting hard and early (Swansea being
one example in our field) but many are taking a more cautionary approach. Those
who are proceeding more warily are taking a range of approaches.
The process often begins with voluntary severance and early retirement initiatives –
these may seem innocent enough but can put huge pressure on those nearing
retirement to bow out early; or on those who have carried the brunt of teaching or
management and therefore not been able to develop their research publications for
the next REF to leave quietly.
These initiatives are usually accompanied by a push to increase funding where
possible. With a cap on student numbers at undergraduate level this means
increasing overseas students often with little thought for the extra pastoral care and
additional language support required. Less popular and more labour intensive or
expensive courses such as degrees with practical media elements and joint honours
programmes are cut in favour of cheaper courses that can pile the punters high and
churn them out with maximum ‘efficiency’. At postgraduate level it means developing
new Masters programmes with the greatest potential for overseas recruitment. But if
all institutions see internationalisation as the key response to the cuts it is unlikely
that there will be enough students to satisfy all takers and as the staff-student ratio
rises students will increasingly choose to go to other destinations. Indeed, a recent
OECD report (Education at a Glance, 2010) signals that the US, UK and Germany all
show falling numbers of international students.
So when the push for expansion fails to reap dividends institutions move to other
measures such as a freeze on posts. Those early retirements and voluntary
severances that seemed to take the pressure off for a while suddenly pile the
pressure on as those still in post have to mop up the workloads left behind and
increase teaching hours on those new postgraduate courses brought on stream to
generate more funding. Frequently job freezes and voluntary severance packages
are targeted at academic related staff leaving a paucity of administrative support to
carry out basic procedures heaping yet further administrative workloads on those left
behind. And maybe there’s a bit of ‘restructuring’ thrown in as managements seize
the ‘opportunity’ to either sell off land, privatise some forms of service delivery or
shut down departments that don’t ‘fit’ their vision of the future.
Communication, Media and Cultural studies cover a range of types of courses and
institutions. Due to the (albeit slowly dwindling) popularity of the field it is often seen
as a cash cow for pulling in students and is expected to support and cross-subsidise
other areas. This can result in research suffering leading to a dip in the RAE/REF
score providing the perfect excuse for redundancies and/or restructuring. In my call
for information on how the cuts were affecting departments and individuals, amidst
news of redundancies and voluntary severance packages there were also indications
that the inter-disciplinarity of our field was grounds for mistreatment with reports of
cuts in contracted hours on permanent posts and requests to teach outside of ones
area of specialism –this is not just media sociologists teaching film studies but media
scholars teaching art and design! A situation that is likely to worsen as postgraduate
numbers increase and those MA dissertations expand in number, more and more of
us will find ourselves teaching (way) out of our areas of expertise.
Then of course there are the smaller things that are eroded bit by bit – the bits that
often make the excessive bureaucracy, the endless squeeze on research time and
the large class sizes more bearable - the conference fees, travel expenses, seed
money for research, sabbatical schemes, the on-site nursery etc. until you are left
wondering what you do the job for.
The final frontier is of course compulsory redundancies. Once a rarity in HEIs, now
increasingly common place. To my knowledge, in our field these have already been
threatened or happened at Swansea, Reading and Gloucester and these are only
the ones that have been brought to my attention but there are many others across
the sector. Compulsory redundancies bring industrial unrest and decimate goodwill.
The worst hit by the cuts are those who are recently qualified. Fresh from doing a
PhD many find themselves working as hourly paid teaching assistants - the
Cinderella’s of the system, propping up under-staffed departments. Desperate to
prove their worth one person in this position told me that “the pressure not to ‘rock
the boat’ and potentially jeopardize any future employment is such that people
accept, even welcome, large workloads, very low pay and poor conditions,
competing with each other for enough contact hours to piece together a living wage.”
This is no longer essential early career experience, rather it has become
institutionalised exploitation – hourly paid staff have become critical to the delivery of
core modules in many places, are valued as colleagues and often teach for many
years but receive no job security and precious little reward. This practice has been
going on for years. Now, with the funding cuts these hourly paid academics are the
most vulnerable and most easily hidden casualties.
Cuts that bite at the senior end of the employment market also result in experienced
academics applying for more junior posts. Anecdotal evidence from institutions who
have had the good fortune to recently advertise a vacant or new position report a
mass of applications many from people with experience and qualifications way
beyond those required for the post yet further squeezing new entrants to the
profession out of the picture.
One of the impacts of managing cuts that is less often talked about is an alarming
increase in the centralisation of power in institutions. This starts with top down
directives on how the cuts should be met which then extends to the range and
balance of courses decreed by senior managers with little understanding of the
subject area and no concern for anything but the bottom line. Communication,
media and cultural studies are easy pickings on this front – viewed from a position of
ignorance, anyone can teach them.
And then there are the students themselves. They will be the ones who will (quite
literally) pay the price. Tomorrow's university students face steep rises in the
eventual cost of their education, either in the form of higher tuition fees or in larger
taxes after graduation. As if that isn’t bad enough there are then those who
desperately want to do a degree but can’t get a place. As the demand for places
surges year on year universities are prevented from expanding to provide the places
required. 150,000 applicants did not get places this year, more than ever before. In
the grips of a recession where does that leave them?
The higher education sector is taking the biggest hit in public spending cuts of all
government departments. While Germany, France and the US have all pumped
additional funding into higher education as part of their economic recovery
programmes, the UK has done precisely the opposite. Britain is falling behind other
industrialised nations in the race to produce the highly skilled graduates needed to
remain competitive in the world economy. In 2000 37 percent of Britons graduated,
ranking Britain third amongst the members of the OECD, beaten only by Finland and
New Zealand. But by 2008 Britain had fallen to 14th, overtaken by countries with
rising graduation rates such as Poland, the Netherlands, Japan, Ireland and Norway,
(OECD annual review of education statistics, 2010). The same OECD report said
investing in higher education made financial sense for countries, even if they were
running a deficit as it enabled them to maintain a highly skilled workforce with
graduates on average paying back threefold in taxes and other benefits the public
cost of their education; .
David Willetts, the Conservative universities and science minister favours private
providers taking over failing institutions. And when in his first speech on higher
education Vince Cable asked: “how does the system deliver better outcomes with
less state funding overall?” he answered, “allow the market to operate more freely”.
By which he clearly doesn’t mean allowing universities to meet student demand
more readily. Rather, he means a reduction in public funding, allowing private
institutions to receive public funds, offering two year intensive courses rather than
three year courses with long summer breaks, modular programmes allowing easier
transfer of credits between institutions and more distance learning.
It all sounds pretty depressing I know. Working in an environment of decline can very
quickly take the joy out of the job as it becomes more a struggle for survival than a
rewarding public profession. What is most startling, particularly for the disciplines in
our field many of which have a history of critical political intervention, is the feeling of
insecurity and uncertainty that very quickly breeds fear and inhibits many staff from
speaking out. But this is precisely what we must seek to avoid. It is more important
than ever to make ourselves heard. One workable response to the years ahead
(other than leaving the country) is a simple recourse to expressive solidarity. Where
potential closures and redundancies have been avoided it has been as a result of
collective responses – sharing information, supporting colleagues and campaigning
on common causes to find genuine solutions. Being prepared and knowing what is
happening elsewhere is all important. Good, old fashioned industrial solidarity via
UCU will be crucial but MeCCSA will also have a heightened role in protecting the
field over the coming years.
This article was compiled from responses to an email requesting information on how
cuts were affecting MeCCSA members. Many thanks to all those people who took
the time to reply. If your department or anyone in it is suffering as a result of the cuts
and you have not yet replied please do let us know by emailing me at
UCU Press Release after the Browne Review (highlighted passages still
Browne's recommendations the 'final nail in the coffin' for affordable higher
education, says union
· Average family facing bill of between £76,000 and £136,000 to put two kids
· Courses and universities facing prospect of closure
The University and College Union has today (Tuesday) warned that Lord Browne's
recommendations for higher education would have a devastating effect, seeing some
universities forced to close and the curriculum dangerously narrowed, as the cost of
university is effectively transferred from the state to the family.
If enacted England will have the most expensive public degrees in the world, with
families having to shell out between £76,000 and 136,000 to put two children through
According to UCU calculations, a three-year degree with annual tuition fees of
£6,000 would cost a total of £38,286, including maintenance loans and interest
payments. A three-year degree with annual tuition fees of £12,000 would cost a total
of £68,329, including maintenance loans and interest payments (see notes for full
The report also proposes to create a market in student places which it suggests will
facilitate a large reduction in public funding which 'may be equivalent to removing all
funding from anything other than priority subjects'.
The union said that, if implemented, the proposals would be the final nail in the coffin
for an affordable university degree for the vast majority of ordinary families. It
forecast that as a result of the creation of a market for student places, some
universities would close, and only so-called priority courses would survive, making
innovative new courses unviable and so weakening the UK's position as a global
Commenting on the report, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "This is a
savage attack on what a university is and what it can offer to all students - not just
those with deep pockets - as it effectively privatises the cost of higher education from
state to family.
"Browne's proposals would make our public degrees the most expensive in the
world. At an enormous cost of between £40,000 and £70,000 for one child's
education, it would be the final nail in the coffin for an affordable university degree for
many ordinary families.
"As a result of this creation of a market for student places, we would see
departments and universities close and a devastating effect on the curriculum as
only so-called priority courses survive. It would become almost impossible to develop
courses in new areas of knowledge without directly perceived economic benefit. If
enacted, these proposals will weaken our position as a global knowledge centre.
UCU believes big business should be taxed for the substantial benefits it gains from
a plentiful supply of graduates and has proposed a modest Business Education Tax
for the top 4% of companies - those who make profits of over £1.5m a year.
Increasing Business Education Tax to the G7 average of 32.87p and hypothecating
the extra revenue to higher education would generate enough annually to abolish
*calculation for a family with a household income of around £50,000 a year
and eligible for only a small amount of means tested maintenance grant under
University and College Union Research
The Browne Review: Cost of tuition fees and maintenance loans This report
analyses the cost of higher education loans for tuition and maintenance for 2
students each doing a 3-year full-time bachelor's degree, from a family with an
income of approximately £50,000, who would be eligible for a partial grant (amount
not specified at the time of writing).
The costs are analysed with the current fee rates at just over £3,000 a year; then at
£6,000 a year; at £12,000 a year.
The £6,000 and £12,000 fees are analysed with annual interest rates of 5.3% (the
Consumer Prices Index annual inflation rate at August 2010 of 3.1% plus the
government's borrowing charge of 2.2%), with a repayment threshold of £21,000.
The maintenance loan of £3,750 a year, uprated by annual 2% rate of inflation. Fees
are repaid over 30 years: where the loan will never be repaid because the annual
interest payment is higher than the annual income-based repayment, the amount
paid over 30 years is given.
Condensed summary for those asked to comment:
Double whammy – loss of government funding for Arts, humanities and Social Sciences,
plus a (likely) cut to the research budget (still awaiting details on this)
Basic economics means bigger courses (preferably with more overseas students) with far
fewer staff in fewer institutions.
Staff/Student rations will rocket
Those who can – i.e. the elite institutions will recruit with high fees attracting elite
students from privileged backgrounds. Those HEIs who have in the past attracted less
privileged students will, in general, suffer the most.
It’s an entrenchment of inequality right through the system at a time when most other
OECD countries are investing in HE as a route out of recession.
Counter arguments (just a flavour of the debates being voiced)
Too many young people go to university anyway – they would be better off being trained in
There is no evidence that the Arts, Humanities and Social sciences lead to more creativity,
empathy and tolerance. Dictators read poetry.
Universities have had it too good for too long and need to start responding to their
customers more – this will make them
There is no evidence that higher fees will put off the less privileged from going to university
Why should tax payers fork out for subjects of little or no economic benefit
Academics spend their lives swanning around international conferences and taking 3 month
holidays, they don’t need more time they need to be more accountable.